What Should Melvin Gordon Owners Do?

Melvin Gordon has proven to be a weak option for fantasy owners this season. Is there any hope of a turnaround?

Running back Melvin Gordon was a wanted man in this season’s NFL Draft. He was wanted so much by the San Diego Chargers that the team traded up two spots to nab him with the 15th overall pick.

Only Todd Gurley was drafted ahead of Gordon at the running back position in this year’s draft.

Based on the offensive boost Gurley has given the St. Louis Rams, he has proven to have been a wise pick.

Gordon, on the other hand, has shown very little in his rookie season to date.

The Chargers chose to let former first-round pick Ryan Mathews walk in free agency last season, as he found greener pastures with the Philadelphia Eagles. The only running backs in the way of Gordon’s anointment as the top option in San Diego were receiving back Danny Woodhead and second year undrafted free agent Branden Oliver.

Therefore, fantasy owners saw the potential in Gordon just as the Chargers did. Based on ESPN’s Draft Results, Gordon was the 17th running back taken in fantasy drafts. Tied to a good offense, owners visualized a safe running back with the upside of a top-10 back at the position.

Underwhelming Results

The lead back job has been right in front of Gordon all season to claim beginning the day he was drafted. He's been given chances but has yet to take advantage of his opportunity.

Each passing week has seen virtually the same results: a solid number of carries, about 40-or-so yards, a coin-flip chance of a fumble, and definitely not a touchdown. That has been Gordon’s season in a nutshell.

Yet to score a touchdown on 114 rushing attempts, Gordon has also rushed for more than 55 yards just once. Gordon is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry on the season with 3 lost fumbles. 

Gordon's weekly totals have been consistently unimpressive. 

Week Rush Attempts Yards Yards Per Carry
1 14 51 3.6
2 16 88 5.5
3 14 51 3.6
4 12 38 3.2
5 15 42 2.8
6 7 29 4.1
7 7 29 4.1
8 18 54 3.0
9 11 31 2.8

Playing mainly early downs, Gordon usually finds himself on the sideline with Woodhead in the game for red zone and passing downs. His vision has been a question, and ball security has been an ongoing issue.

The Chargers offensive line also leaves much to be desired, providing little running room as a makeshift unit.

Advanced Metrics

Our metrics aren’t too kind to Gordon and the Chargers’ rushing attack.

The team’s Adjusted Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) ranks fourth worst in the league, which indicates that the team is performing poorly in terms of running the ball above expectation-level. Gordon’s rushing woes have had a big impact on this total, as he’s led the team in carries nearly every week.

After Week 10, Gordon’s Rushing NEP per carry of -0.16, ranked second to last among 40 running backs with at least 70 attempts on the season. Ahead of only C.J. Anderson (-0.17) within these parameters, that should tell you enough about how poor his season has been.

Gordon’s Rushing Success Rate (38.60 percent) ranks 25th among those 40 backs and indicates that he isn't contributing to the team's NEP on a significant number of his carries.

By contrast, Woodhead (on 57 carries) owns a Rushing NEP of 1.21 (18th among 50 backs with at least 50 carries), a Rushing NEP per play of 0.02 (16th), and a Rushing Success Rate of 49.12 percent (5th).

Even on the same team, Woodhead is performing well; Gordon is not.

Are There Any Positives?

Despite the fact Gordon has produced limited results, the Chargers continue to give him a solid amount of work. He has either led or tied for team high in rushing attempts in all but one game this year.

In seven of nine games, Gordon has seen double-digit rushing attempts. He’s also seen a decent number of receptions, catching at least one pass in all but three games.

Just when it appeared the coaches may begin to decrease Gordon's involvement, Oliver was placed on injured reserve, solidifying Gordon’s workload moving forward.

The Chargers look committed to keeping Gordon involved and giving him every chance possible to prove worthy of the first-round pick invested in him. Coming out of their bye, owners can hope that some of the offensive line issues have been resolved and that the team is still committed to Gordon, allowing him to finish up his rookie season strong.

Fantasy Future

Gordon’s owners have yet to see the fantasy points coming in they had hoped from the rookie rusher. As much as fantasy teams could benefit from another running back option rising up in a season with every week starters at a premium, it seems unlikely.

Woodhead has earned the trust of the coaching staff and should continue receiving most red zone and passing down work. With the team in passing mode frequently, Woodhead will also likely see more snaps than Gordon.

He’s been given a fair share of opportunities, but his efficiency has to improve, and the fumbles have to stop. The touchdowns should come, but that isn’t difficult when the current standard is set at none.

For fantasy owners, Gordon’s chances at a top-24 running back finish are looking bleaker with each passing week. Gordon is probably going to remain in the flex range for fantasy purposes.

The trade market for Gordon is nonexistent, so owners will have to hold and hope coming out of the bye his stock will improve. 

Owners who must start Gordon have a running back that provides a low floor and low ceiling. In dynasty or keeper leagues, Gordon’s prospects could improve next season, but his rookie season doesn’t look to be getting any better.